Making a Trading Plan

Now that you have a good idea of what makes the markets tick, you’re probably itching to start spread betting, with dreams of how you will spend all that money. The first caution is that these ideas and principles will only improve your trading, and not guarantee it. Trading has never been a game of certainties, and it continues to be a business where you must work consistently to make your winnings exceed your losses.

The first thing you must do before plunging in is to make a plan. This is sometimes known more formally as developing a trading system. Unless you want to be open to randomness, which in most cases leads to bankruptcy, you need to plan how you are going to spread bet, and which signals you are going to look for, and preferably test it out on some historic information to make sure that you will profit. If you stick with a plan, then you can refine it gradually over time to improve it, knowing exactly what works and what doesn’t.

“You need to find a system that works for YOU and don’t think it has to be complicated, more often than not simple is BEST. In fact, I’d say that the ideal strategy is one which you could explain to novices in a few minutes and they would understand it.”
“Your outlay in time and money will be vast. Think of something simple and easy. You don’t need to do something earth shattering- just make a good, plain solid trading plan. Starting to trade is easy, being successful long-term is HARD. It takes vast amounts of learning and time. Don’t practice by blowing your whole wad.”

The markets you trade, and the way you trade them, reflect who you are, your talents, the time available, and your tolerance for risk. One way that traders fail is to try and adopt the latest idea, whether or not it suits their situation. And if you buy a system and just put it to use, then you give yourself something to blame for bad results, rather than taking ownership of a system that you develop and understand. Things that work for someone else might not work for you and vice-versa, so I guess it’s a matter of taking what you can from other people’s approaches and settling eventually on something you have proved to yourself over time works. I guess the hardest thing is to really listen to yourself. I’ve documented my mistakes over the years I’ve been trading but that won’t mean anything if I end up doing them again, which is certainly a possibility due to human nature.

To make your plan you first have to decide what type of strategies would suit you, your budget, and your schedule. Some different successful strategies are outlined later, and you should take and adapt something that has worked before. Your goal is to be able to write down your plan unambiguously, with a set of rules that could be followed by anyone. If you have the facility on your charting program, ideally you want to be able to “back test” your strategy to see how profitable it would have been over time, and to see if there are any problems that need addressing.

The hardest part of putting together your trading plan is writing down the rules, but it is essential to what you’re trying to do. They should be as simple as possible, consistent with being effective, as the time spent in making them more complicated probably won’t pay off. And if you are back testing to try out your system, beware of tweaking any values and variables too much. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of optimizing your system to past prices, when the changes you make won’t help the system in general.

The system will consist of:

  • a rule to enter a spread bet – what you’re looking for in the chart of the financial instrument
  • a rule that tells you where to set a stop loss – a value where you know for sure that the trade has failed
  • a rule that tells you when to exit the trade for a profit*

* An exit strategy can have several reasons for exit such as a technical price movement or bad news or a profit target being reached. It doesn’t have to be just one thing but you must know all the circumstances where you might want to close the trade.

These rules will tell you which bets to make. Remember here that your exit from trading positions is as important as your entry to it. As a spread trader it is very easy to enter a position hoping it will move in your predicted direction forever. However, at some point the market will turn and if you don’t have an exit plan you may find yourself holding for dear life hoping that your trade will turn back into profit. The key to successful trading is knowing when you should cut a losing position.

“Timing is crucial in financial trading and the points at which open and close a financial spread betting position will dictate the size of any profit or loss you eventually make. It is therefore vital that you learn to enter and exit your spread bets at the right times.”

The next section will tell you how much you should risk, so you can continue to spread bet without risking running out of money.

Here’s a few observations and potential scenarios… I’m not saying either right or wrong but may provide a few thoughts…

Assumption is portfolio 10k, and risking 2% per trade..

Antofagasta bought at 1470. My initial stop would be 1380 which is 90 points away… I get this as 20 day average true range ATR = 42. Multiply by 2 and and a few on… the amount I’m prepared to lose on the trade is 200 which is 2% of 10k.. so i would buy 220 shares as 200/90 = 220.

Once bought here are a few possibilities on exit criteria -:

  1. If it goes straight to stop get out at stop for 90 point loss.
  2. Everyday it goes up move the stop by the same distance (keep it at 90) until price reached 1660.  Once reached 1660 close half position and keep trailing the rest at a 90 point distance.
  3. Do same as in 2 but keep full position.
  4. Use a moving average to guide you out.. For this you gotto decide your timeframe.. the higher the moving average the wider stop will be. as the average goes up move stop up.
  5. In this system I’m using the turtle traders method of x day breakdowns…I use 10. so on Antofagasta it would currently be 1526ish.)
  6. A flat percentage trailing stop.

‘You see both sides. You recall clients who were on a hot streak. I remember one particular client who made six-figure sums very quickly and then just as rapidly ended giving them back again. You are going to have bad trades, but you need to acknowledge that you will lose money sometimes. You definitely must have an exit strategy. – Michael Hewson, market analyst at CMC Markets’

A lot of people keep very sketchy records of the bets that they make, and their outcome. Some rely on getting statements from their brokers to remind them of what they did. But as you are organized with a trading plan, you also want to be organized to keep a good record of your winners and losers. You should keep a trading diary, either on the computer or hand written, in which you make notes about all the bets you place. The notes include why you picked that one, what were your reasons for the selection, what were your thoughts and emotions about it, and how you closed the trade, whether for a profit or a loss.

Your diary should be absolutely honest, as you do not have to show it to anyone else, and you should review it regularly so that you can find ways to improve. Sometimes, you have to note that you didn’t follow your plan. You got impatient, or you got a hunch and did something different. If you have it all recorded, you can work out whether what you did was better or not. Then you must be careful that you do not get lucky on a few occasions, stepping outside your plan, and think that you can trade better than you really can.

If you base your betting selection on specific technical indicators or patterns, it can be useful to print out a copy of the chart when you place a trade as a reminder of why you did it.

We’ll talk about emotion later, but for the moment I would say you should wait before you review the trades that you have noted in your diary. It is hard to be objective if you placed the bets just a few hours before. You might want to review your performance for the week at the weekend, when the markets are generally closed. But you have to bear in mind that you will have a losing trades, even if you did everything perfectly according to your trading plan. And if at times you ignored your trading plan, you could have winning trades. Neither of these events means you have to change your plan. You need to look at the overall picture over many spread bets to be sure you are improving your system before making any changes.

Whatever your strategy, here are a few simple principles that apply to most trading:

  • As soon as you see you are in a losing position, cut your losses by closing the bet
  • On the other hand, if the bet is winning make sure that you let it grow as much as possible before taking your profits
  • Use money management, covered in the next chapter, to restrict the possible size of losses
  • Always place a stoploss as soon as you enter the bet
  • Trade with the trend, unless you have a good reason to do otherwise
  • Don’t bet for the sake of it, wait for the right opportunities to come along
  • Never bet on something just because it looks cheap
  • Above all, preserve your capital.

Beware of the automated trading systems that you can find circulating around the internet (usually for a fee). At worst they are nothing more than a scam where the system seller promises you untold riches from some wavy line crosses and candlestick patterns which amounts to overall losses. At best, they are created by someone who has spent a huge amount of time backtesting data but, alas, they have spent a lot of time fitting their entries and exits to past data – this is known as overoptimisation, the trading system is only relevant to the specific data-set that has been backtested. The latter guys had good intentions but ended up selling a useless system.

Just think for a moment: if any of the trading systems that they sell worked for all of us then we’d all be millionaires. Trading is inherently difficult and you learn what not to do more than you learn what to do. Spend £500 on a trading system and you will learn nothing. Lose £500 in the market and you won’t feel great but you will learn something from it at least. Best advice I can give you, is your winners should be 3 times your losers, that way you only have to find a way to be right 1 trade out of every 3 to make a good return over time. Its just to hard keeping your winners at 50%.